Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips spent four seasons as the head coach of the Cowboys. There are still a couple holdovers from his era in current Dallas head coach Jason Garrett and tight end Jason Witten, and as they prepare to face Phillips and Los Angeles on Sunday, they still have a strong appreciation for what he has meant to their careers.
"I'm a better football player because of my experience playing under him," Witten said of Phillips this week. "He's just an incredible man. He's what playing and coaching in the NFL is all about. He did it the right way."
Phillips' tenure leading the Cowboys, which spanned 2007-10, overlapped with Witten's fifth-eighth seasons with the team.
Witten has recorded four 1,000-yard seasons in his 16-year career, and three of them came under Phillips. Both of Witten's only First Team All-Pro honors, and four of his 11 Pro Bowl nods, were also achieved under Phillips.
What Witten learned and took away from his time with Phillips went beyond the field.
"Those three-and-a-half, four years I was with him, I learned a lot about football, but more importantly, how to be the right type of pro," Witten said.
Garrett was Phillips' offensive coordinator in each of his four seasons at the helm. He has practiced against Phillips' defense several times – Phillips also served as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator in 2009 – and will be preparing to face it for the third time as a head coach on Sunday.
For Garrett, what resonated the most about Phillips was his approach to player development.
"He's a great football coach. Obviously his track record of success speaks for itself," Garrett told Dallas reporters this week. "He has a great way of helping individual players on his teams play well, and certainly they play well as a unit. There's a scheme that he's played for years and years and years. It's something that he believes in, something they've played well at all his different stops, but also there's an evolution in what he does. You see that in the pressures he uses and the coverages they play."
Witten said Phillips has been one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL for a long time, and he's sure Phillips will always be excited to come back to Dallas.
"He's a great example for all of us," Witten said.